The origins of the First Unitarian Society of Westchester (FUSW) began in the 1850s with Sunday services held in a private home in Yonkers, New York. By 1856, the crowds became too large for the space, and all interested religious liberals were invited to attend services at the Getty House Lyceum. Unitarians alternated Sundays at the Lyceum with the Universalists, and many individuals were drawn to both types of services. In late 1857, the Unitarians called their first minister, and the next year the church applied for a certificate of incorporation from the State of New York. A Gothic Revival-frame church building on North Broadway in Yonkers was dedicated in the autumn of 1861. The church remained in that building until 1965, when it moved to its current location in Hastings-on-Hudson.
The congregation grew in the late nineteenth century, and the minister introduced a Sunday evening service on “Topics of the Day,” with subjects that included the theory of evolution, organization of labor, increasing freedom for women, compulsory education, and other current issues. During World War I, membership declined and for a time there was a return to the early practice of holding services in members’ homes. After the war the church flourished, growing to a membership of several hundred and offering a rich music program, an active church school, and a strong involvement in social action. After World War II, features of a modern congregation began to emerge, including the publication of a weekly church bulletin; the introduction of paid advertisements for the church in local newspapers; and the creation of the all-important social hour—with coffee—following services on the first Sunday of each month.
The congregation’s size shrank in the 1960s and 1970s due to the relocation of the church building, changing attitudes toward church-going, and a financial crisis. The smaller congregation called a half-time minister and assumed responsibility for alternate-Sunday programming. This led to the creation of Program Groups, in which the congregation was sub-divided into several groups that created and presented Sunday services. The Program Groups, partly task-oriented and partly social gatherings, are still an integral part of our congregation’s life. In 1985 the congregation changed the popular name of the organization from “The First Unitarian Church of Westchester” to “The First Unitarian Society of Westchester” to reflect the wider membership. The minister remained a part-time position until 1992 when we once again called a full-time minister. Since that time, FUSW has seen congregational growth and a population explosion in its RE classes. We expanded the building, adding two more classrooms to the RE wing and improving on building accessibility, and we hired a professional Director of Religious Education. We have increased the musical offerings as part of services and as social and fund-raising events, and have staged numerous art exhibits throughout the year. We created and implemented a Safe and Sacred Policy, voted to become a Welcoming Congregation, and made a commitment to creating a green sanctuary.
We have been affected by the current economic downturn and have endured our own natural disaster. Nonetheless, we have maintained a strong spirit of community and mutual support. We consider our society a source of joy and strength, acceptance and inclusion. We look forward to growing, evolving, and sharing our gratitude and pleasure in being UU together.